Late in 2018, my husband turned 70 and we reached our 50th wedding anniversary. We treated ourselves to this trip to celebrate in style. I personally cannot speak highly enough about the whole experience. From day one we were amazed at the culture, the beautiful people and the spectacular scenery in every country we visited. As this was a non-English speaking continent, we decided to go with a tour company. After a few inquiries we settled with South American Tours www.southamericantours.com.au They work with Condor Travel in South America. I would highly recommend this tour company. Our liaison with them was all via email, they were extremely helpful, versatile and obliging while planning the trip. They were also honest with the advice they gave. Once arriving in SA we found each individual guide was friendly, informative, always on time and immaculately presented throughout the entire trip. We really could not fault them.
Part One Santiago-Valparaiso-Quito
Flight Sydney to Santiago Chile is approx. 14 hours no stops, crossing the international date line.
Santiago is the capital of Chile. The official language is Spanish, and the currency is Peso.
Avge width of Chile is 120miles, length is 3230miles. Population is 15,400,000-36% live in Santiago.
Highlights- Experiencing a new culture, The variety of architecture, the uniqueness of Galapagos.
We arrived at Santiago airport tired but excited and a little wary. We had been given some tips on the potential dangers of arriving in a foreign country.
There are several exit gates, so we followed the crowd which turned out to be a mistake. This was where the dodgy taxi drivers hounded the passengers for a quick dollar. We anxiously scoured the crowds looking for a tour guide holding up our name. Unfortunately, this took a while and a few tense moments. Once we returned at the correct exit, we saw our guide and were immediately relieved. We were whisked away to a comfortable vehicle and an easy, although busy drive to our hotel. We were then left to our own devices for the afternoon/evening to discover a little of the area where we were staying. We quickly settled in and took off to pound the pavements. Such a vast difference to what we were used to. It was a busy town, with many churches, alley ways, old buildings crowded into every available space.Horns honking frequently and the driving was at the least erratic. We noticed electrical cables dangling outside apartment windows with no apparent destination. Windows with broken shutters, some with curtains flapping in the hot air and washing dangling from the ledges. Following our crude map we eventually came across the massive, large city square. The meeting and resting place of all the city dwellers.There was a long corridor of eating places on the side and a massive area to congregate. We were led to believe, after lunch it was common for the workers to siesta on the benches in the square. Hence what we thought may have been the homeless were just those surviving the normal work day. We could understand this as pounding the pavements in the heat of the day is quite draining. After wandering for a few hours, we headed back to our hotel for some much-needed food and rest. The following day a walking and driving tour of the city was booked in, showing us the different aspects of the new and the old, the rich and the poor. Up to San Cristóbal Hill for a panoramic view of the city and its vast array of old and modern architecture. A very informative tour with plenty of time left in the day to explore the many parks and museums of Santiago. That evening we found an area nearby made up of tiny alleys and small streets housing a multitude of cafés from which to choose . Finally selecting one, we scoured the menu to find a few words that we could recognise sufficiently to be able to order a meal. So far, we were doing ok as far as choosing our food and drink. It was early days though and our knowledge was very limited.
The next morning, I awoke feeling little unwell. Was it the sip of water I had or that apple I pilfered from the foyer, I am not sure, but my stomach was feeling a little queasy. However, our car was ready and waiting and so we departed on time for Val Paraiso. Unfortunately, I remember little about the drive as I was very desperately trying to prevent the unleashing of my breakfast all over this very clean car. Thankfully I was able to hold off until we reached our destination. A quick visit to the restroom seemed to help. The residence, namely La Sebastiana, was the home of the Nobel prize winning poet Pablo Neruda. This unique three story building set high on the hill was worth the visit. The stories and artefacts displayed, portrayed a very quaint and artistic personality. Afterward a drive through the colourful labyrinth of hills, which make up Val Paraiso was special and entertaining. It is a university town full of creative people, displaying their art on many of the buildings. We were then left to meander down the hillside and to experience the uniqueness of the funicular railways (two counterbalanced carriages permanently attached to opposite ends of a haulage cable). We then travelled with our tour guide to Vina del Mar, Chile’s fashionable beach resort for lunch and a walk around the town. Our last afternoon and night finished with another great meal sitting on the sidewalk with some wine and street entertainment. An early night due to an early flight the next morning.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador which has a total population of approx 14mill. Language spoken is Spanish and Kichwa.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador which has a total population of approx 14mill.
Language spoken is Spanish and Kichwa. English is widely spoken
Main cities are Quito, Quayaquil and Cuenca. Currency is USDollars.
Quito is a city where modern architecture meets the beauty and the strength of colonial buildings. On first arriving it appears a little old and poor but when you look more carefully the creativity can be seen everywhere. After settling into our hotel, we took a walk around the nearby streets and parks. Quite modern and everything you may want is available. We went to the large impressive museum, there was a couple of very interesting exhibitions and the grounds are quite beautiful. We then wandered through the expansive central park looking at the artworks and the street performers all within a few city blocks of our hotel.
The following day we were guided by car and foot to the older side of Quito, visiting the well preserved colonial centre. We first stopped at the Virgin of the Panecillo, because whether religious or not it is something to behold. The view from the top shows the whole of Quito and beyond. Moving onto the tourist hotspot you are greeted with magnificently well preserved, grand buildings of intricate 16th century architecture. The Plaza de San Francisco is a huge area for the people to relax and mingle surrounded by churches and and many highly distinguished buildings. It has a party atmosphere and a great place to rest your tired limbs. Further on, a highlight was the “Church of the Society of Jesus” the interior richly decorated with gold ornamentation. It is overwhelming and one feels quite humble in its grandeur. Walking up and down the streets and alleys we saw some beautiful quaint little streets, dotted with flower pots and colourful flags. Continuing on, we came across plenty of cafes, boutique shops, more churches and the occasional park. Many hills later, we arrived back at our hotel pretty exhausted.
More walking the next day to see the “Basilica del Voto Nacional” the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas, building began in 1892. A magnificent church with Gargoyles and spirals reaching to the heavens. Ken tells me the view from high in one of the spirals, reached via a dodgy looking bridge of scaffolding, and a steep ladder to the top, was worth the effort.
There is so much more to see and do in Ecuador. If time permits it would be good to stay for longer than a couple of days. That afternoon we organised our washing and packing, as we were off to Galapagos Island tomorrow. This very special place deserves a blog of its own so watch this space for Part 2.
Today we started on our way to experience the snowy mountains in summer. Ken bought me a short stay of four nights in Crackenback Resort for Xmas. It has been raining continuously here at home so we have made sure we packed some wet weather gear and lots to do if we have to stay indoors. The drive which is around 5-6 hrs depending on stops can be mostly highway or like us you can go via Mulgoa road, through Narellan and then onto the main highway toward Canberra. This way you see a few smaller towns and the major development happening at Badgery Creek airport. Highways of course are quicker but can be boring. We were lucky as the sun shone the whole way. Actually the most sun we have seen in quite some time. We stopped off to photograph Lake George because there was water. A rare event I do not remember seeing in my lifetime. It is interesting to see the fence posts poking out just a couple of inches from the waterline. Certainly changes the outlook from the road. A quick lunch and grocery pickup and we were on our way again. We arrived at the resort and of course as we alighted to take a couple of photos within the grounds of the resort, the rain saw us coming and graced us with its presence once again. Just lightly, but enough to make us scurry back to the car. Driving on a little way we looked for our accommodation nestled at the foothills of the mountain in walking distance to Lake Crackenback. After spending 15 minutes trying to find the key we eventually located the front door. The place was small but perfectly clean, modern, and with every amenity on board. We unpacked and tried to venture down to the lake when the rain decided to visit once again. Back indoors, a glass of wine and some dinner as we watched the clouds and mist settle around the lower part of the mountains making a stunning backdrop. The rain cleared and the cool crisp air was very pleasant. We encountered some very large Pied Currawong’s, a couple of Kangaroos including a Joey and some beautiful Fallow Dear wandering the base of the hills just behind the unit. Movie and an early night are on the agenda before a big day tomorrow.
Day 2- Roughly 28 years ago we took our six-year-old daughter to the Snowy Mountains and proudly completed the walk to the summit of Mt Kosciusko. What possessed us today to it again I will never know. What we knew but did not realise would add to our kilometres travelled by foot, was that the mountain bike festival/racing was being held in Thredbo and every parking place was taken quite early in the day. Never mind we opted for a car park quite some distance from the chairlift. No shuttles running, not a worry when you are starting out the day. We walked a good kilometre to the chairlift and bought our tickets. Jumped on the open chairlift and away we went. Straight up for 15 minutes with views everywhere. The rain decided to stay at home today so we were afforded some lovely sights. Once alighting from the lift we prepared ourselves for the walk, telling ourselves we can turn around at any time. The first kilometre and a half are pretty steep, so very taxing at the beginning. Having done it before we were able to stay motivated as we remembered the walkway levelled out further afar. Well, we found out that was not exactly the correct recollection. We heard a guide say to another senior couple, “Congratulations, the hard part is done. It is quite undulating and not so difficult for the next few kilometres.” Spoken like a true hiker, who only recognises hard. We continued and my feet started to burn a little. Undulating yes but there is still a lot of uphills to contend with, and did we mention the wind? The boardwalk makes it a little easier but when you look ahead and see nothing but mountains and a small red boardwalk winding around, up and down and seemingly into the unknown, it is very daunting. The positive is, on the entire walk you are surrounded by mountainous hillsides, varying wild flowers in many colours, boulders of every shape and size and babbling brooks meandering under bridges and throughout the hills. You pass by the highest lake in Australia before you reach the highest point in Australia. When the sun shines at the right angle the blue of the water in the lake sparkles against the few patches of white snow spotted here and there. Eventually after a lot, and I mean a lot of self-talk, pauses and groans you will reach Rawsons Point. You would have covered many steps, with pretty strong winds and the sun beating on your forehead. Here a longer rest was needed mainly to psych oneself into continuing on. The sign says 45 mins to the peak( 1.5 kilometres) That sounds easy but is it? The quick answer, not when you are 70 plus. It is an uneven gravel road winding up and around many bends and as you approach each one you are convinced the top is around the next turn only to be confronted with another stretch of gravel. My feet burned, my chest was tight, my legs were objecting severely but my head kept saying you cannot turn back now. I gave in and listened to my head and now I am very glad I did. There is a massive sense of achievement when you round the bend for the last time and see the cairn, which marks the peak, staring back at you. You did it, you beat the challenge and all that was left was to sit and ponder and enjoy the crisp air that is the summit. The hard part is done or so I thought. We took a little time and ate our sandwich, some chocolate and rehydrated. We relaxed for a bit and took the token photo of ourselves standing next to the cairn. Admittedly the views from the top are certainly not stunning if you choose to compare them with other spectacular mountains of the world, however, the vastness of what is The Snowy Mountains, the history of Strzelecki’s work followed by many other explorers braving the elements and the personal achievement of getting there is without argument very rewarding. You can see it and hear it emitting from those who are there waiting their turn to take that one photo. The picture captures each persons face of self-satisfaction.
The last Chairlift down leaves at 4.30pm meaning, if you miss it a further 550 metres of walking almost vertically downhill would be required to get down the mountain. With this in mind, we started our return journey down the mountain thinking to ourselves that it should be a breeze, as it was mainly downhill with a few ups and downs in the middle. I am laughing to myself as I write this. When one uses muscles that have been dormant for some time, forcing them to walk uphill for a lengthy period of time, I believe they must be supported by many parts of the body supported by the mind motivation that helps you along. When you reverse that process and try to use another set of muscles to go down you will discover the result is quite a painful reaction. The kilometre back to Rawson’s pass is straight down on that same gravel road. My sock on one foot was creating friction on my little toe, my hip and thigh muscles complaining immensely and my body tensing from keeping oneself from giving in and slipping the whole way down. This turned out to be quite a frightening and challenging experience. Ken was not much better with his hips objecting loudly. All we could think of was how in hell were we going to get back the 6.5 kilometres to the chairlift and do it by 4.30. What we thought was going to be quick was now looming as impossible. Finally, we reached the last bend where the Rawsons’ pass could be seen. Our first sigh of relief. The adjacent toilet block allowed a short stay, repositioning of my shoes and socks and a welcome easing of the tension and pain. The muscles were feeling manageable so we decided if we could just keep a steady pace the rest of the way we should be ok. Time was ticking so off we went, we were overtaken by many which were pretty disheartening but we soldiered on. There was still a lot of downhill sections of course which were gruelling but the many flatter sections allow the body to recoup each time. At last, we saw the workmen who were relaying some of the boardwalk. We knew once we got up this hill we only had 1.5 kilometres to go. Checking the watch we also knew we were under pressure. That little hill climb was very taxing and took up valuable time. We reached the top and saw the next downhill section and not far into that section we were very relieved to see the roof of the chairlift building. Motivation increased and a fine sprinkle of rain was with us now so we found ourselves at the pace of a near jog all the way down this next section ( jogging seemed to be easier on the muscles than dragging the body along at a slow pace). Not quite believing it ourselves we made it with 10 minutes to spare. Jumped (on reflection I would say, heaved would be more accurate) on that chairlift and let our bodies relax enough to enjoy the feeling of the cool rain on our aching limbs. Watching all the bike riders weaving in and around the many tracks, some tricky, some muddy, they made it look easy. It is quite fascinating to see young children to seasoned veterans, many in the bright team colours, doing exactly what they love.
Alighting with a heavy thud and our legs frozen from the short spell of inaction we had to stop for a few minutes to enable the blood to flow once again. All that was left was the kilometre walk back to the car. OMG, the last straw. We started and I think I made it 2/3rds of the way until Ken pointed out how long to go. There was no more fuel in my tank. I stopped and could not continue. Poor Ken had to go get the car and come back for me. After a short wait the car pulled up, Ken looked at me and said are you able to manage as I cannot get out to help. I laughed, struggled to move but got the backpacks in the car and flopped onto the seat with absolute exhaustion. We drove back to our accommodation in silence, showered and had a cup of tea. Surprisingly we were ready to hit the road to find the wine and the steak our body was yelling for. Afterwards feeling refreshed and accomplished we happily returned home to sleep.
Day 3. We woke this morning with a little pain which was quite surprising. Both of us expected to be immobile. We thought we would be flat on our back for the whole day. After taking our time over breakfast we decided to test the limbs and do the walk around our resort while the weather was good. We started off and not very far onto the walk, Ken stopped abruptly as a snake crossed his path heading away from him. We later investigated to find out it was a Highland Copperhead. We were able to watch it slithering along heading to the river edge. It was a shiny black with distinct yellow markings along the underside. Quite beautiful to watch. We ventured on to see a very young duckling sitting together with his sibling on the edge of the lake. After only a short time one ventured into the water leaving one little fluffy body seated alone. We watched for a few minutes and after what appeared to be much trepidation he faltered and eventually hit the water. Once in, there was no catching him. It was only a short time before he caught up with mum and the sibling and continued on safely. Moving on watching the ducks, of which there were many and all very active we crossed a small footbridge heading to the start of the walk that had ironwork sculptures dotted along the track. The grounds are kept clean and neatly laid out but still allowing them to look quite natural. The facilities in the park areas are extensive for all ages, walking tracks, bike tracks, fitness tracks, children’s trampolines, canoes and kayaks, archery, a cafe, a restaurant, and of course the gift and ski shop. The resort boasts an indoor pool and spa and gym so there is little to complain about. We finished the lake circuit taking in all the unique iron sculptures and headed back to our unit. We decided to drive into Jindabyne to obtain our national park pass, have lunch and take a slow wander around the lake. Lunch was fine and the pass was secured, however, our body was now telling us enough is enough. We were both now feeling the effects of yesterday. A quick decision to take a drive to Perisher and Charlotte Pass instead. It is such a pretty drive with many sweeping views of the surrounding vegetation and waterways. We got to the end of the road and what faced us was a short 15-minute boardwalk. Should we, should we not. Of course we did and found ourselves among some beauitful ancient snow gums. It was a superb and simple walk but of course at the end, a looming staircase. Once again you cannot leave without reaching the top. So up we go and again not disappointed. The hills and mountain ranges reached far and wide. Heading back we concentrated on the snow gums which were hundreds of years old. Over the many years of existence, the wind had moulded and twisted them into remarkable shapes. A small area but some fantastic specimens all together to be marvelled at. Walking back to the car we were quickly convinced that a horizontal position at home was needed quickly. Some recovery time was vital. After a few hours rest, we headed off to the resort cafe for a beer and pizza. I decided I could manage the little walk home so took myself off while Ken took the car home. The wind had dropped and the air was clean and nice. I encountered many birds and three kangaroos who appeared to object to me being in their space regardless of the fact it was a human walking track they were grazing on. I moved aside and skirted around them. I am sure they were wondering why I was in their space. Looking at me with a look of bother in their eyes. Quickly hurrying on as the sky was darkening with nightfall, just a few metres from our accommodation a large mass moved suddenly in front of me. Before I could get the camera activated it scurried to the right and down the hill. A large wombat I believe heading to the hole in the gully we had seen earlier in the day. A nice way to end the walk. Another glass of wine and an early night to rest this very tired but satisfied body.
Day 4 – It is the last day of our stay at Crackenback and we discussed last night that we would take it easy and just lounge around all day. Well, that was the plan and you know what they say. We started out slow and then Ken came across a waterfall walk which looked pretty flat and easy. We decided why not, let’s do it. Our legs had restored and we just did not want to waste a day. We donned our walking gear and drove up toward Perisher Valley, parked the car and started off. We knew it was a 6-kilometre return easy walk with few stairs. We had no time limit so we went slow. The walk was a pretty, natural bush track surrounded by unbelievably tall snow gums. Straight up with fantastic colours and craggy trunks. The water droplets from the mist hung on the leaves making the bush sparkle. The many spider webs twinkling in the sun. Not far in we see a medium-sized kangaroo sitting on the walking track. He raised his ears, looked at us intently for several minutes and then quickly moved a few metres into the bush. We followed his eyes and noticed him still watching as we passed by. A little further along a joey was watching inquisitively and not far behind, his mum was guarding quietly. No matter how many times I see them in the wild, I find them intriguing. Maybe it is something to do with my feet bungling through the bush and watching their boundless leaps which seem effortless.
There were many tiny bush flowers and many snow gums to take our eye along the way. After nearly 3 kilometres and a few muddy spots to manoeuvre we came across the waterfall. It was quite pretty and flowing freely. Worth the effort and my legs were feeling ok. We were both however a little tired and Ken’s face was showing the grief of his unyielding hip pain. The track headed up a little which was a bit gruelling but nothing we could not handle. We located a large fallen tree trunk to sit and rest our bones and enjoy our rissole sandwiches and fruit with a little chocolate for energy. Once rested we took off again. There were a few mutters along the way as we did seem to be climbing quite a bit. So much so that we questioned ourselves as to whether we had missed a turn and were on the wrong track. Ken found a faint signal on the mobile and located our whereabouts to determine if we were going in the right direction. There was no sun at this point to guide us so we took note, tramped along for about what we thought was a kilometre and checked the map. We were a little relieved as it looked like we were making progress in the right direction. Turning a bend we saw a plethoria of magnificent boulders on the side of the track. It is a little strange when you are walking among bush and trees and suddenly from the ground, massive rock structures impede your way. Like giants forbidding you to go further. They stand immovable, imposing and intriguing. Children would relish the challenge of mastering these natural monsters. The track wound on but it was starting to feel like we were heading down now. A couple more kilometres and we reached the bottom without incident. By now my legs were feeling the strain and Ken was certainly battling the pain. Back to our car and a quick drive to Jindabyne for some much needed Tiger Balm ointment and even better a beer and a glass of wine. Some takeaway Chinese food for dinner and home to settle in for the night. A pat on the back for both of us for making the effort. It is interesting as Ken and I have been doing this type of walk and adventure throughout all of our married life. I constantly say it is not my thing but I go with him trekking through the bush many times and I always finish up feeling accomplished and satisfied. Why I complain, I have no idea, a habit I guess. If you asked me what I like, I would say sitting on the rocks at the beach, watching and listening to the waves tumbling, or sitting with friends in a cafe with non-stop conversation, both of which are just a tad different to bushwalking. I guess I just like doing something.
Day 5-We have to head back home today, our short stay in the Snowy Mountains finished. We had breakfast, packed our bags, removed the rubbish and we were on the road again. We stopped briefly at Jindabyne to photograph a memorial and the many seagulls lining the shore of the lake. We had intended to do a small walk but our physical bodies were not agreeing. We headed off to Cooma to visit the graveyard. I have been doing some ancestry investigations on our families and I know both my mother’s parents lived in Cooma and surrounding areas at some point. It is a very laborious task researching birth certificates etc and trying to substantiate the connections. I wanted to see if there was an old section in the cemetery where I might find some relatives. I managed to find one very old grave of the wife of my Great Great Grandfather who died in November 1902 at just 40yrs old. I will now have to connect it to a death certificate so I can be sure. Pretty happy I was able to find anything at all. We drove onto Queanbeyan for lunch which was pretty ordinary. Ready now to return to our haven at Hazelbrook. Overall a really great five days which we vowed we will do a similar trip again while we are still able. I have also added a few photos of the animals roaming free at the resort at Crackenback. Would definitely recommend this place for everyone.
Hope you have enjoyed following us around and will come back and visit again soon. Please feel free to comment and follow my blog for further travel and life experiences. Enjoy your day.
23rd November 2018, 50 years to the day we married at the Sydney Registry office NSW. During this time, we had experienced trips to New Zealand, Hong Kong, North and Sth America and different states of Australia. We have enjoyed all of our trips.New Zealand was a particular favourite of ours as it is a short plane ride, inexpensive with very beautiful countryside and friendly accommodating people.
As a complete surprise to me Ken decided our next trip to NZ would be to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in my style of holiday. Normally I organise everything with discussions with him about modes of transport and particular interests. Our normal way of seeing a country is to move daily from town to town visiting the vast array of scenery and specific highlights on offer for the region. During our travels we cover a lot of ground on the premise that we may not get back to the place again and therefore want to see as much as we can. I have found myself on occasions expressing a desire to stay put for a few days and visit more of the city. I was about to get my wish. On this occasion, Ken organised everything, unbeknown to me. This is a massive undertaking for him as he is not used to the whole process. He booked the flights, organised an air B&B, planned and booked tickets for our excursions. It was very organised, and I did not have to lift a finger. I had no idea where I was going until we had to check in at the airport. As it was, he had to reveal to me that we were flying somewhere as he had encountered a small problem when booking the airfare. Apparently, he had been doing really well with the plans until he had to produce the passports. He scrounged everywhere not knowing where I had stored them, luckily came across them and proceeded to enter the details. To his horror he discovered that my passport had expired. With great disappointment he had to tell me what was happening, with the hope that I could renew my passport quickly to avoid cancelling the whole idea.
He was so disappointed in having to tell me this and as happy as I was to find out about this surprise event, I was more concerned about what he was saying as I was positive my passport was in order. As the story unfolds’ we discovered he indeed had my passport, but it was an old one which had most definitely expired. What he did not know was that weeks earlier I had needed my passport to prove identity for something and had my current passport in my handbag. It was well and truly up to date and the catastrophe was averted. I know knew something but not everything, part of his surprise was still in a secret.
We headed off on the train to the airport when I finally discovered our destination as we checked in for the flight. Once seated he handed me the itinerary all neatly presented in a folder. I was so surprised and felt very special that he had managed to do this and keep it a secret. We could have been going to the next town and I would have been happy. The surprise was the doing.
So we arrived in Christchurch airport very late 12.30 am, picked up a hire car and headed to the city. Our accommodation was at the Heritage Hotel, Cathedral Square in the middle of downtown Christchurch. It is a grand and opulent building designed by Joseph Clark Maddison in 1909. It is a restored Italia High Renaissance palazzo style building. Originally designed to centralise various government departments. It opened in 1913 and housed those government departments until 1980. The building sat idle and was in threat of being demolished when it was purchased and resold in 1995 at which time it was converted into a hotel. It is now made up of fully self-contained apartments. Our particular air B&B was immaculately clean, modern but still with the heritage air about it. Luxuriously comfortable for our weeks stay. We had the next seven days to leisurely make our way around the city taking our time seeing the sites.
Walking around the city you are faced with both destruction and beauty. The massive effort from the locals to restore their city is very noticeable, as is the love exhibited in the beauty of the memorial wall built for those who lost their lives to the earthquake of 2011. Not only is Christchurch a wealth of heritage buildings and beautiful churches it is also a modern town with modern structures, plenty of eating and entertainment areas and at the same time it is quiet and peaceful wandering the streets.
The following day we visited the Botanical Gardens and the Mona Vale Gardens. Both of these gardens are in the city and very accessible. The Mona Vale Gardens show many flower varieties in full bloom and in plentiful supply. The grounds are in exemplary condition with a river running through the centre and a glorious house open to the public. After spending a couple of hours, wandering and photographing we headed back into the city to check out the Botanical Gardens. Equally as impressive. The grounds are extensive, with lots of grand old trees and the River Avon running through the centre. There is a stunning conservatory with a very intense display of a variety of flowers and plants and some very interesting Cacti. We had lunch in the gardens and wandered back to rest a little before our planned anniversary dinner that night. My legs and feet had survived a massive walking day and were looking forward to a relaxing evening.
It is the night of our anniversary and a special dinner has been organised by Ken. I did not know where the venue was so got ready assuming it would be an upmarket restaurant. I was told we would be picked up from inside the Mall at Cathedral Junction to be taken to our destination. To my surprise an elegant looking tram arrived and our name was called to join the other passengers. What a lovely treat. The tram had been converted to a fine dining restaurant which weaved its way in and around the city of Christchurch while serving a beautiful three course meal and matching wine. The service was impeccable and the food delectable. It is amazing how much of the city you are able to see without using ones legs. A happy relief on my part. We were not hurried and when we finished the tour we wandered across the road for a nightcap at the bar attached to our hotel before retiring to the luxury of our accommodation. It was a beautiful day and night.
It is day four, a Saturday and time to venture outside of the the CBD. We are heading to Akaroa to experience the only French settlement in NZ. It’s about a 90 minute drive from Christchurch . Akaroa is a small sleepy little village on the Banks Peninsula, a town deep in Maori and settler history. It is such a pretty place made up of holiday places, cafes, gift shops and the main wharf area. While we waited for our boat to arrive we sat with coffee on the boardwalk watching the cute little seagulls searching for handouts. They are totally different in their habits than the seagulls you will find on the coast of Australia. They have a distinct red beak and red feet. They seem to create their own little territory so that if another mate comes near their source of food they chase them away. Quite cute to watch. The boat arrives to start our two and half journey around the waters of the Banks Peninsula. It was overcast and quite cool but even though a little disappointing that the sun had not joined us we were rugged up and ready to go. The water is calm, the surroundings are magical and once we were underway and out of the bay area we were escorted by a couple of playful dolphins. Always a joy to watch. The next thing that caught my eye was the brilliance of the water with bright turquoise and green tones lapping against the rocks. There are several water falls cascading down the green hillsides surrounding us. A little further on we approached an inlet where the boat sat quiet so we could watch the many seals sunbathing in various precarious positions on the rock ledges. They were surrounded by several different species of birds. Our guide was informative and as we were part of a small group we were able to see and experience everything close hand. We both enjoyed ourselves immensely. On our return we wandered through the village checking out the many souvenirs on offer and settling down at one of the cafes for lunch. Before heading back to Christchurch we visited the Lighthouse and the Garden of Tane.
Sunday arrived and we were tired but relaxed. Time to use our very relaxed limbs and have a bit of a stroll through the alpine mountain pass called Arthurs Pass. A haven for walkers and skiers. We headed off early to the visitors centre. It is about a two hour drive from Christchurch. We had travelled across the magnificent Otira Gorge in a camper-van many years ago and more recently in the Tranz-alpine Train. It is the highest and most spectacular pass across the Southern Alps.The views were to say the least stunning on both occasions and we would both recommend the trip to everyone. I am sure I will be mentioning it in a future travel blog. For now, on this day we travelled by car with the intent of walking one of the many tracks near the village centre. Initially passing the village we headed up to the Otira Viaduct lookout which gives a great view of an ingenious piece of engineering involving bridges, viaducts, rock shelters and guided waterfalls. Photo’s do not do it justice. If you are lucky you will see a beautiful bird called the Kea known as the naughty alpine Parrot. There are many videos on the internet showing its level intelligence and its playful habits.We were thrilled to have one walk by very close to us. Certainly he was not afraid of us.
We then headed back to the visitors centre. Once there you have the option of several walks. We chose the Devils Punchbowl walking track which starts at the northern end of the village. It is only 2km return trip with easy walking. You will cross the river by footbridge and then wander for a while passing many Beech trees, listening to the chatter of the many birds. You then come across a fairly steep set of stairs heading upwards for around 150 meters. At the top you reach a platform to view the falls in all their glory. Absolutely stunning and very accessible. We took our time climbing around the waterfall, photographing and enjoying it’s many aspects and then wandered back slowly. The weather was not great for walking or photography so we decided to take our time looking at the surrounding area, namely the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve. We chose not to walk through the cave due to the rain. Hopefully we will get to do this another trip. As the road follows the Waimakariri river back down to the golden tussock covered lands at the foothills you will come across Castle HIll. Take the time to stop and wander across to look closer at the massive array of boulders dotting the landscape. Surrounded by hills and mountains it is quite a majestic scene. We stopped at a roadside hotel for lunch and then headed back to Christchurch to wander a little more through the shops of Christchurch. Ending the night at an Irish pub called The Bog which had a great atmosphere led by a very lively Irish band.
The second last day of our trip we took a drive to Lake Tekapo, Good Shephard Church and Mount Johns observatory (The token Observatory visit ). Lake Tekapo’s bright blue waters set against the contrasting green lands with snow topped mountains rising in the background is a very relaxing scene. We have had the pleasure of witnessing it when the sun was shining brightly helping to capture its natural beauty. Today was overcast and certainly not as beautiful but we were blessed with a stillness in the air. A place to sit and ponder ones thoughts in peace with only the occasional bleating of the sheep to break the silence.
A short visit to the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory. Situated 1029 meters and overlooks Lake Tekapo. The clear skies and low levels of local light pollution have helped put the observatory on the international map with observations and discoveries of the southern sky. The dome houses a 1.8 prime focus reflector being the largest telescope in New Zealand. Visiting during daylight presents you with a great view of Lake Tekapo and the surrounding farmlands. An iconic landmark at Lake Tekapl is the Church of the Good Shephard. Easily found sitting on the foreshore flanked by glorious pink, purple, yellow and white lupins. These are an introduced flora species to New Zealand and considered invasive. Having said that they are also a very attractive tourist asset. Being there at the end of November was just at the start of the season. They were sparser then we have seen before but together with the yellow gold of the tussocks spotted throughout it was a beautiful scene. The Church itself was built in 1935 with the instruction that the site was to be left undisturbed. Close by is a bronze sheepdog statue, erected in 1968 being a tribute to the sheepdogs used in developing the farmlands in the Mackenzie region. Heading back along the state highway 79 we stopped for a coffee at a tiny place called Three Creeks. You will see from the photos a sign on the store says “Lost in the 50’s ” So true and so quaint. Many hours could be lost just rummaging through the amazing piles of stuff. Well worth stopping. The road takes us now through the continuing beauty that is the South Island. We detoured a little to drive via Mt Hutt. The town is nestled in a small valley surrounded by mountains. A very popular ski area and a thoroughly serene and picturesque place to drive through in the summer months. Then a pleasant drive through the outer suburbs of Christchurch and a wander around the city before settling down for dinner and a glass of wine to end the day.
The last day but definitely not the least. We started off early heading up the east coast to the Kaikouri Peninsula. Again another easy beautiful 180 km drive through the green hills, farmland and then hugging the coastline watching the waves crash on the rocks.
The roadworks nearer to Kaikouri were intense due to much damage from the earthqake. It was not a bother and actually pleasing to see the improvements under way. Arriving in the small seaside town we parked and headed to where the seals were lounging around claiming the rocks as home. One old fellow who was very large had claimed his spot under the seat on the side of the road totally oblivious to the humans nearby. Those who had taken up residence on the rocks closer to the shore would let you know when you were too close by emitting a low guttural roar. Scary enough to make one take heed and move on. The birds are in abundance and great to watch as they soar through the sky, swim in the ocean or waddle across the rocks. We decided to take a walk up to the point where the Ocean meets the Forest. A taxing walk uphill but paved, making it a little easier. Worth the trip as it is quite exhilarating at the top where the view of the mountains, the birdlife and the surrounding bushland blend together naturally. Really glad I made the effort. It was drizzling rain some of the way but it added to the experience. We made sure we headed over to the town for some fish and chips. After eating and wandering around the shops and the shoreline we made our way to our next destination, Hanmer Springs. This part of our trip was a total surprise to me. Going to a spa is something I have done before but only in a closed-in resort style spa and sauna. This was an outdoor spa which Ken had investigated and had on the itinerary. It was not something we would normally do. So the town on Hanmer springs is all about relaxation. There is accommodation, many outdoor activities, food, alcohol and thermal pools. We headed to the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools right in the centre of the town. Changed into our costumes and ventured into the first spa. It was raining lightly and just 10 degrees, so we agreed if not comfortable we would not stay long. Several hours later after trying out the many pools available we had to drag ourselves away. The pools were all different heat levels and had different specialties. Some were very hot with no activity needed, others not as warm but with jets hitting you on various parts of the body, bringing alive muscles which had been asleep for some time. Each pool had its own appeal. It was so relaxing, so indulgent and very invigorating.The light rain added to the experience. It is something that will now be added to our future trips whenever possible. It was time to leave and head back to our temporary home for one more night. The drive back mid to late afternoon took us through the Balmoral Forest and across the Jurunui River. Passing farms, rich with crops, vineyards and olive groves which the Waipara region is known for and the continuous rolling green hills of the South Island. The last part of the journey returns to the beaches of Amberley, Waikuku and Woodend. Such a beautiful day to end our time in the South Island. We finished the night with a lovely dinner and drinks at the hotel restaurant. Packed up for an early flight the next day. It will be a holiday I think we will both remember for a long time and my wonderful hubby deserves more than full marks for his effort.